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22 September 2011

TG, word and concepts: Part 4: The Myth that Transgender is a Princian Concept

Part 1: Introduction: the meanings of Transgender
Part 2: The early years: up to 1990.
Part 3:
The full-blown usage after 1990

Part 4: The Myth that Transgender is a Princian Concept
Part 5: The Backlash Part 6: Conclusions.


Virginia Prince’s one-off 1969 usage of ‘trangenderal’, a malformation, was not copied by anyone, and she herself never used the term again.

By 1978, ‘transgender’ and ‘transgenderist’ were being used by a variety of people with different meanings. The Hose and Heel journal, closely associated with Prince, explicitly rejected the term. Ariadne Kane, who worked with Prince apparently used the term ‘transgenderist’ several times, most notably in an interview with Boston’s Gay Community News. Prince does not say so, but the assumption that makes most sense is that she copied the term from Kane. Certainly this is the opinion of Robert Hill who has written the only book-length thesis on the Princian movement. We should note that Prince did not use the term in her paper "Transsexuals and Pseudotranssexuals" of that year for the Archives of Sexual Behavior, even though her topic was the contrast between the sexual orientation of gay pre-ops and the supposed gender orientation of heterosexual pre-ops. She did use the term in “The Transcendents or Trans People”, a paper read to the Western Regional Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex in Santa Barbara, June 1978, reprinted in Transvestia 95. Then a couple of times in Transvestia magazine, and then once and once only in a paper for Vern Bullough’s The Frontiers of Sex Research, 1979. One or two of those who claim that she coined the term ‘transgenderist’ do cite either FSR or TTP, but the vast majority of such claims do not do so.

I have not found any claims between 1978 and 1987 that Prince coined the word. Please point out what I have missed.

In 1988, Richard F. Docter in his Transvestites and Transsexuals: Toward a Theory of Cross-Gender Behavior credits Prince with coining the term in her Understanding Cross Dressing, 1977. He gives no page reference and Google Books Search is unable to find it.

IFGE (International Foundation for Gender Education) had been founded by Merrisa Sherrill Lynn in 1987. Although proclaimed as a group for both transsexuals and transvestites, they put off persons like myself by endorsing the most famous anti-transsexual and homophobic divisive person. I remember at the time taking them to be a group that privileged heterosexual transvestites. As if to prove me right, they created a Virginia Prince Award, and, apparently with no sense of irony, actually awarded the first one to Virginia Prince. The next two went to Merrisa Sherrill Lynn and Ariadne Kane. Certainly no-one like Sylvia Rivera, Holly Woodlawn, Angie Xtravaganza, José Sarria, Reed Erickson, was ever given an award by them.  That did not send a message to outsiders that trans persons in general were welcome. There is little documentation about IFGE in the early days, but it did seem to play a major role in inflating the Prince legacy.

Holly Boswell’s 1991 essay, “The Transgender Alternative”, which advocates non-surgical lifestyle, does not feel any need to mention Prince. It was just a bit too early for Prince to be associated with the term ‘transgender’.

By 1992, Yvonne Cook-Riley (who was awarded the Virginia Prince Award in 1995) was lobbying for the use of ‘transgender’ within IFGE, and would later, with wilful ignorance, claim that she and Prince created the ‘transgender community’.

Vern Bullough was a personal friend of Virginia Prince and has been rightfully criticized for devoting too much space to her in his books, and exaggerating her achievements. It is therefore quite significant that in his 1993 book, Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, he does not claim the she coined 'transgender', or even associate her with the word at all.  He does use the word when referring to Ariadne Kane.

Kymberleigh Richards, who self-described as a ‘transgenderist’ and was the editor of Cross-Talk, a magazine for heterosexual cross dressers, was the only person to go into alt.transgendered to claim that ‘transgender’ was a Princian legacy. In 1996 she published “Gender Fundamentalists” by Prince, in which Prince was as divisive and transgenderphobic as she had always been, and apparently had not grown into the inclusive image that IFGE had constructed for her.

Leslie Feinberg does not mention Prince at all in Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come, 1992, or Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, 1998, but in hir second book, Transgender Warriors, 1996, ze says, after using the term in its umbrella sense, “But the word transgender is increasingly being used in a more specific way as well. The term transgenderist was first introduced into the English language by trans warrior Virginia Prince. Virginia told me, ‘I coined the noun transgenderist in 1987 or ’88. There had to be some name for people like myself who trans the gender barrier’ “. This is her only appearance in the book: ze does not care to demonstrate Prince as a ‘trans warrior’. Note that the quote says 1987/8, not 1978/9 when Prince is actually documented as using the term. This conversation, nor any similar claim, is not even mentioned in Robert Hill’s thesis, in Richard Ekins’ books nor in Richard Docter’s biography. This is late for such a claim to be made and, without confirmation and with the wrong years, one is quite entitled to suspect poetic license.

The next year, 1997,  Prince and Richards had papers included in Bulloughs’ Gender Blending, gruffly rejecting the inclusiveness of the volume. Richards insisted that the majority of transgendered are not transgenderists, and Prince claimed, as she had done to Feinberg, that she had coined the word, but doesn’t say where or when. She also mulled abandoning the term and embracing ‘transposeur’, a term that she did not follow up on, any more than she had followed up on ‘transgender’ after using it very briefly back in 1978.

Two years later Vanessa Foster met Prince. Foster later recalled: "She was bemused by my use (and the community's) of the word transgender, and how the story affixed its authorship to her, even though she'd referred to it as transgenderist as a self-descriptor once she'd moved from occasional crossdressing to living as female, though not transsexual (she was quick to correct that!)". This is not at all the same claim that Feinberg makes, and that Prince had made in Gender Blending.

Thus we can date the idea that Prince invented ‘transgender’ to the period 1992-6. At the beginning, Bullough was writing his book that was to published the next year, and had not yet been informed that Prince invented the word, although he knew her personally. Cook-Riley started her disinformation campaign soon afterwards, and she was so successful that by 1996 Feinberg felt that ze had to include the claim in in hir book, and Prince had started to claim that she had invented the term.

Therefore, I think that we can see that the idea of Prince being falsely nominated as the creator of ‘Transgender’ comes from an attribution error in Docter, a political inflation of her achievements by IFGE, a disinformation campaign by Cook-Riley and an injudicious and unsupported sentence in Feinberg. By this time Prince had started claiming to have coined the term when she felt that the audience wanted her to, but at other times made fun of the claim when that seemed appropriate. The misinformation was propagated by lazy academics who repeated the sentence in Feinberg and never bothered to fact check and search for the actual citations as they should have done.

Thus we have a myth.

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